How to Shoot Vintage Photos on a Budget

Shooting period pieces that look and feel like they’re really from another era can take a bit of work; you need to find the right old-timey locations, wardrobes, and props. But it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. Jay P. Morgan is working on a portrait series called Time Period, where he photographs people today in long ago settings and makes them look like they’re really from that time. Here, he offers four tips to create vintage portraits that won’t break the bank:

For his time period photo shoots—like when he photographed young WWII pilots—Morgan set out with a plan to find the perfect location and get the right clothing and props.

4 Tips to Create Authentic Vintage Portraits

1. Look for museums that will let you use their location and/or props.

It’s usually smaller, local museums that will give you more freedom and access to their collections, but large museums can be persuaded, too. In this case, the air museum let Morgan and his crew photograph one of the fully restored WWII planes, as well as use some of the clothing and hand props from the era. While most museums probably won’t charge for the use of the pieces, you can always make a donation to the museum if you want.

recreating wwII photo

2. Look for reenactment groups.

It’s a really good idea to check out your area for local reenactment groups that might be willing to help out. And don’t forget about LARPers—live action role players—who also have their own clothing and props to help add an authentic touch to your photos.

3. Consider wardrobe houses.

This might be a little on the expensive side, but if you just don’t have any other options, you can always rent wardrobe pieces. If you contact a company that provides movie costumes, like Warner Brothers, they can ship the costumes to you.

reenactment group wardrobe photo

4. Shoot at the location where you find the set pieces or props.

Sometimes, you can’t take the props to another location—like with airplanes or ships. For this shoot, Morgan photographed the planes at the hangar, but he has a few tricks to cover up any signs of modernness:

  • Use smoke to hide things you don’t want to see in the image.
  • Fill the frame to eliminate anything telling in the background.
  • Get down low so you’re looking toward the sky and not at the surroundings.

lower perspective photo

There are also a few things you can do in post production to finish off the vintage portrait:

  • Erase modern-looking buildings and cars in the background.
  • Add a curves adjustment to increase the contrast.
  • Add a gradient map layer with a 50% opacity to de-saturate the color, giving it an older look.
  • Use a sepia photo filter.
  • Add a high pass layer to boost sharpness.

vintage portraits on a budget

Morgan’s artistic photos give us a chance to see how people lived in different times throughout history.

vintage couple portrait

It’s all about researching the time and making sure you’re capturing an authentic replication of that period. Doing it right can get a little pricey, so these tips are just a few of the ways you can overcome the crazy cost factor.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

One Comment

  1. David Price says:

    In one of the photos, you have a model wearing a uniform jacket with chevrons on the sleeves of a Technical Sergeant. But the cap that the model is wearing is an officer’s cap with scrambled eggs on the bill. The scrambled eggs are for field grade officers ( Colonel and above ). That gaffe does not lend to authenticity of the photos.

Leave a Comment

Personalize your comment with an avatar from Gravatar.com!

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever